I was talking with a friend of mine a few weeks ago about happiness. Specifically, she asked me if there was any connection between happiness and your Myers Briggs Type Code. We talked about how some personality types tend to be more prone to anxiety or depression or addiction than others, but that your Type Code is not a predictor of those things.
I suggested she start keeping a gratitude journal. Or if “journal” feels like too big a commitment, just write on a scrap piece of paper. Before you go to bed at night, write down five things you are thankful for that happened that day. Nothing formal. No long paragraphs needed unless you want to write more. A bullet point list is fine. I assured her she would feel happier and even sleep better.
“Oh, is that something you do every day then?” she asked.
“Well… no,” I admitted. “It’s more something I do in phases. The truth is I haven’t done it in quite a while, but I think I’ll start another phase tonight.”
And I did. And I felt happier. And I slept better.
We all know gratitude is a good idea. A recent article in Forbes even lays out 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude that include everything from giving us more relationships and making us mentally stronger to helping us sleep better. And most of us (sometimes begrudgingly) recognize, “Yeah… I could be more grateful.”
I got that Gratitude Journal/Scrap-Piece-of-Paper idea from my friend Maria. Maria is one of the happiest, most grateful people I know. I’m not sure whether she still keeps that journal, but I know she’s got an essence of gratitude that I’d like to see more of in myself. So I’ll keep doing what worked for her.
I’ve learned practices of gratitude from other people too.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in church, so I perked up one Wednesday night before Thanksgiving when the pastor said, “Instead of a sermon tonight, we’re going to write a list of 100 things we’re thankful for.” My first thought was “Instead of a sermon? Phew… that’s a relief.” (This was a guy known for longish sermons.) My second thought was “A hundred things? I can’t possibly come up with 100.” But I did. And while it took some thinking, it was worth the effort. Every once in a while I still sit down and write out a hundred things I’m thankful for in my life.
Another gratitude practice showed up when I was in college. The school’s president mentioned how he spent Thanksgiving morning making phone calls to donors thanking them for their contributions. My college roommate and I thought that was an interesting idea and got in the habit of calling each other every Thanksgiving morning to express gratitude for our friendship. We still did that even after we graduated and lived hundreds of miles apart with our own separate lives. We kept up with birthdays and other holidays and all that, but the Thanksgiving phone call took on its own separate importance.
Some people are faithful in the gratitude practice of sending Thank You notes. I'm not one of them. I'd like to be - it's just that I'm not very good at keeping up with details. It helps when I remind myself the note doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to literary gold. It just has to say thanks. And I developed a little formula that helps.
Thank you for ____(action)_____. I really appreciate ____(character quality) ____.”
Thank you for making that pound cake for the office party. I really appreciate the way you share your family’s tradition with us.
Thank you for covering me in that meeting yesterday. I really appreciate how I can trust you to step in.
Thank you for writing all those thank you notes to our clients. I really appreciate your commitment to building those relationships.
If the mention of Thank You notes strikes you with unrelenting guilt, let that go. Don’t try to catch up on a lifetime of thank you notes. Just start thanking people today.
And if writing a note is too much, then say it in person. Two sentences is all you need. Or make a phone call, leave a voicemail, write an email. How you deliver your message is not as important as developing the habit of expressing your gratitude.
With that in mind, let me close with my own expression of gratitude.
Thank you for reading our Stories to Engage Team. I really appreciate the way you care about the people in your life and are willing to use these stories to better understand yourself and how we all affect each other. I am truly grateful... Celia
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